Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 637
Ruth, a former photographer’s model in her early thirties, now married to Teddy and the mother of their sons. On the occasion of her and Teddy’s visit to his family home in London, she is a force in the lives of Teddy’s father, uncle, and two brothers. As an...
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Ruth, a former photographer’s model in her early thirties, now married to Teddy and the mother of their sons. On the occasion of her and Teddy’s visit to his family home in London, she is a force in the lives of Teddy’s father, uncle, and two brothers. As an outsider, she disrupts the comfortable routine of their lives. At the end, she does not leave for the United States with her husband; she admonishes him, at his departure, not to become a stranger. At first, experiencing the family’s hostility toward her, she slowly and subtly engages each of the men in a battle of the sexes, in which she emerges as the victor. Her control over Max is emotional; over Lenny, psychological; and over Joey, sexual. Her life with Teddy is sterile. Her psychological mobility is the secret of her eventual dominance over the immobility of the males.
Max, the father of Teddy, Lenny, and Joey, and the domineering, seventy-year-old patriarch of the family. His sons and his brother, Sam, live with him in a shabby ancestral home in London. He constantly threatens his sons and brother, and even Ruth when she arrives. Underneath the animal imagery of his virile language lie the buried uncertainties of his past. These emerge in the course of the play and involve possible violations of his now-deceased wife, Jessie, in the back of Max’s taxicab. His conflicts are with his sons as well, even as he insists on a “cuddle” with one of them. His boasts about his secure family life prove to be idealistic. Illusions about his wife and family are shattered as the realities of his past emerge in fragmentary pieces. His emotional tensions find release at the end; crawling over to Ruth and repeating that he is not an old man, he asks her to kiss him.
Lenny, the first of the family to meet Ruth. He is in his early thirties, and his character suggests homosexuality. In his meeting with Ruth, a superiority battle develops in which Ruth is the victor. Lenny, however, proposes that Ruth stay with the family and have an apartment in London in which she will earn money for them by means of prostitution. He plans to make all the necessary arrangements, even to the furnishing of her apartment. In a final ironic gesture, he suggests that Teddy could provide her with names of his American colleagues on their visits to England. In his battle with Ruth, he indulges in monologues of fantasy about women who have attempted to have sex with him and failed. Despite his boasting, he is, finally, at the mercy of Ruth, who moves with the flux of things, using her enigmatic, nonverbalized life force to counter the rigidities and dominance of the men in her life.
Teddy, who is in his middle thirties, a philosophy professor at an American university and Ruth’s husband. He is the intellectual of the family. Professionally and domestically, his life adds up to a sterile realization of the American Dream. America is the alien force in the play, and Ruth, like her biblical predecessor, is amid alien corn. She does not accompany him when he leaves for America.
Sam, Max’s sixty-three-year-old brother, a taxicab driver who boasts of the rich people he has driven to the airport. He constantly suffers verbal attacks by Max, and at one point his verbal victimization by Max takes physical form as he is struck to the floor by his brother.
Joey, a boxer in his early twenties. Of the three brothers, he is the most physical. In his sexual encounter with Ruth, even he cannot claim victory; he complains that she is only a tease who refused to go “the whole hog” with him.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1092
Jessie is Max's late wife and the mother of Teddy, Lenny, and Joey Though she never appears in the play, she is mentioned frequently and her presence is felt throughout. She is praised by Max in saintly terms as being "the backbone of the family" and also condemned by him as a "slutbitch." She had a close relationship with Max's friend MacGregor.
Joey is a rather stupid man in his mid-twenties and the youngest of the three sons. He wants to be a professional boxer and to that end works out in a gym. His regular job is as a demolition laborer. Joey is delighted when he sees Ruth and Lenny dancing and kissing and immediately takes Ruth to the sofa where he begins to "make love" to her. Later, he spends two hours with Ruth alone in his room but does not "get all the way," and he seems content with that. At the end of the play, Joey sits at Ruth's feet like a child, with her stroking his head like a pet.
Lenny is in his early thirties and is the second son. He is a successful pimp with a string of prostitutes. Lenny is the first of the sons introduced in the play, and he seems to dominate the household with a cold, quick wit. He is also the first of the family to meet Ruth, and he immediately attempts to dominate her. He tells two long stories, one about being propositioned by a prostitute by the harbor front and the other about going to help an old lady; both end with his beating the women. Ironically, Lenny seems to be sexually as well as emotionally impotent; Ruth almost instinctively recognizes this and turns it against him. Lenny later suggests setting up Ruth as a prostitute so she can pay her own way while "staying with the family." At the end of the play, Lenny is standing to one side as Joey sits at Ruth's feet and Max crawls towards her begging for a kiss.
MacGregor, now dead, was a ruffian friend of Max. Together they were ' 'two of the worst hated men in the West End.'' Like Jessie, he never appears in the play but is often referred to and figures prominently in Max's memory. Metaphorically, MacGregor's ghost haunts Max because of Mac's "close relationship" with Max's wife Jessie.
Max is the seventy-year-old father of the household. He is a shrewd, crude, brutish retired butcher. He attempts to maintain household dominance with threats and the evidence of his past as a hard-working man who supported his wife and sons. He also invokes his past reputation as a violent thug who was feared by everyone. His initial confrontation with Lenny at the beginning of the play ends with the father backing down from his threats. He later physically assaults both his son Joey and his brother Sam. Although he is viciously insulting upon first meeting Ruth, calling her a "smelly scrubber'' and a' 'pox-ridden slut,'' he later speaks of her in sentimentally glowing terms. He is astute enough to recognize, near the end of the play, that it is Ruth who will' 'make use of us," rather than the other way around.
Ruth is Teddy's wife and the mother of their three boys. She is the agent for change in the power straggle of the all-male household. Her marriage is apparently rocky at best. When she first appears in the second scene of the play, she immediately displays her independence. She uses semantic quibbles to undermine her husband's authority. It is nearly midnight and although she says she is tired and asks if she can sit, when Teddy tells her to sit, she refuses to do so. When he suggests they go to bed she decides to go for a walk. Throughout the play she is able to take control from each of the men, beginning with a wonderfully understated theatrical scene with Lenny. She charms Sam and uses sex to dominate Joey. When the family suggests that she stay with them and help pay her way by spending a couple of hours a night in a West End flat, she knows immediately what they are proposing. She treats the offer purely as a business proposition and proves a tough negotiator. The men agree to all of her demands, and she agrees that it is a very attractive idea. At the end of the play she has chosen to stay with the family.
Sam is Max's brother and co-owner of the house. He works as a chauffeur for a car rental service. Sam is the only one who does not attempt to control Ruth. He seems to be a gentle, sensitive, and even gallant man. He is gracious with Ruth, and he tries to console Teddy by telling him that he was always his mother's favorite. There are many indications that he is not interested in sex at all, something that is used against him by Max. However, Sam has survived in this household; in his own quiet way, he is tough. Near the end of the play he attempts to undermine Max by blurting out what everyone has always suspected, that MacGregor had Jessie in the back seat of his cab and thus may be the father of at least one of the boys
Teddy, in his mid-thirties and the eldest son, is a Ph.D. who teaches philosophy at a university m America. He married Ruth just before leaving for America six years before the play begins. He has never told his family he was married, and, as the play begins, he is bringing Ruth home to meet them for the first time. It is soon obvious that the marriage is a dry and loveless one. Teddy is able to see what is happening in the dynamics between Ruth and the men of his family, but he is either unable or unwilling to put a stop to it. He has narrowed his intellectual focus in order to objectify others in an apparent attempt to avoid emotional involvement and thus to protect himself from pain. He says that he can see what others do, that it is the same things that he does, but that he won't be involved in it. He relates the family's proposition to Ruth and does not try to dissuade her when she accepts it. He says that he and their boys can manage until she comes back to America.